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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Suffer the Little Children

English is tough, but throw in Old English and it gets tougher. "Suffer the little children" (Matt 19:14 KJV) has been thought by some to refer to making children suffer. Not the point. In a similar way, I think we're confused about suffering.

In church on Sunday the sermon was on finishing the race. Fine and dandy. Someone (not the pastor) mentioned that the day was coming when we'd be in the presence of our Savior and all our sufferings would be at an end. True enough. I caught, however, a sense that what we would experience was simply pain relief, so to speak. As if Heaven would be the best aspirin you've ever had. I think, also, that this is common. The Bible promises there will be no more tears (Rev 21:4). The notion we appear to come away with is that all the tears and mourning and crying and pain in this life were all a bad thing and when we get to Heaven all this bad stuff will be over. I don't think that's the point.

Scripture is abundantly clear that God intends difficulties (e.g., Gen 50:20) for a good purpose. Malachi talks of one coming from God. "Who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness." (Mal 3:2-3) He is "refiner's fire" and purifies with fire. Similarly, Peter urges his readers to rejoice in distress "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 1:7) The author of Hebrews assures us that God "disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6) Imagine that! Chastised (literally "flogged") for love!

It is true that our suffering in this life will end some day. It is true that He will dry our tears. It is true that our pain will end. I do not believe, however, that it means that suffering was bad and God will finally end that bad thing. I believe He will not merely end the pain. We will see the point and the value. We won't think it was too much; we will find that it was perfect, just the right thing to shape us and mold us and mold us into the image of His Son. We will rejoice that the pain is ended, sure, but we will also be grateful it was there, doing the work God wanted done to refine, purify, and shape us into just what He wanted us to be. Suffering won't be merely terminated; it will be appreciated.


David said...

I think a similar idea is in play when people think about the final judgment. They think people will be lined up and when they are sentenced to hell kicking and screaming. But Scripture tells us in the end EVERY knee shall bow and EVERY tongue confess that He is Lord. I believe that when pronounces His condemnation, everyone will accept that as the correct answer because they will finally see just how far from the mark they truly were.

Stan said...

In C.S. Lewis's interesting (but I think misguided) The Great Divorce he describes people who, essentially, take a day trip from Hell to Heaven. Given the opportunity to stay, they reject it out of hand. It's not a place where they want to be.

I think his depiction is fictional, but I think you're right that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord and will not protest their punishment. I also believe that all will understand and say, "Yes, that's right."

Craig said...

I think Lewis’s theory that no one will go to hell that doesn’t want to is reasonably close to the mark. Why would someone who spent their life on earth rejecting God, probably wouldn’t consider eternity with Him to be desirable.

Stan said...

I like Lewis's story. I think it is illustrative of a lot of truth. The fact that he appears to suggest that everyone gets a second chance after death is my problem with it.

Lewis said that, in a sense, everyone that goes to hell "wins" against God. "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it."

Craig said...

I agree, that the post death conversion is a problem. But I think he does a pretty good job of explaining the situation in a relatable way.

David said...

I don't agree that when they get to the Throne and see the glory of God in all His splendor will say, "No thanks". They will get there and on bended knee admit it's what they deserve.